A TIME capsule of Hatherleigh life back in the 1840s – as seen through the family of the then vicar of the parish – has come to light and been returned to the town after an absence of more than 160 years.

The album features watercolours, sketches and satirical cartoons which together conjure up a snapshot of a vanished world.

It was found in the library of an order of nuns in Surrey after the remaining elderly sisters moved into nursing care and gifted to the town’s history society.

Clues contained within the sketches themselves have linked them to the Rev Samuel Feild, vicar of Hatherleigh from 1831 until 1862. Watercolours include the parish church of Hatherleigh and sketches of gentlemen on horseback meeting one another on Hatherleigh Moor.

A ‘Portrait of a Lady’ depicts a woman in a ball dress – for reasons lost to time, both the subject and the author’s name have been erased.

While no obvious reference is contained to the Feild family, there are clues, among them a reference to the village of Honeychurch, where the Rev Feild’s son was the vicar. There is also a view of Pillaton over the border in Cornwall, which had Feild family links.

Martin said: ‘We were contacted during lockdown on the website. Someone said they had the album. They didn’t give us a great deal of information but did say it had some images of Hatherleigh. They said they would like to give it to us, if we were interested in taking it on, which of course we were.

‘It was in the library of the order of nuns of St John the Baptist. The remaining sisters had moved into a nursing home where they had more company and more access to care and this person had taken on sorting it out. The link is to how it got here, we don’t know, but there is a link to Samuel Feild, so I imagine a member of their family belonged to that order at some point.’

He added: ‘It is a lovely thing, there are some good watercolours of the town and other locations around and being the 1840s it predates any photographs of people we have so it really is a time capsule.

‘The album is reasonably robust but I keep it at home because it is a better atmosphere. Our archive is in the Old Schools and it is very cold and damp there. It isn’t the ideal place to keep something that old.’

He explained that many of the watercolours had been pasted in, with a border, into the album. There are cartoons among the sketches, along with snippets of text and snatches of verse.‘The cartoons are almost like Punch cartoons,’ said Martin.

The watercolour album has already been shown to the history society members and will feature in a ‘pop up museum’ in Hatherleigh later in the year, to allow more people to see it.